In defense of technology schools
The following guest editorial by Elizabeth Fisher, director of Mid-Coast School of Technology, was edited for space. For the full version of her letter, visit knox.villagesoup.com.
Career and Technical Education, or CTE, trains students for employment and prepares them for higher education based on Department of Labor projections of what is needed for the local economy. Maine law is clear that students must have access to CTE, and the Legislature has set up a system to ensure that students can participate in these opportunities in every part of the state.
Region 8’s Mid-Coast School of Technology is the designated Career and Technical School that serves 19 towns in Knox and part of Waldo County. The mission of Maine’s Career and Technical Education can be found on the Maine Department of Education website: maine.gov/doe/cte/.
Some have recently questioned why students should be bused to a CTE school when they can “get everything they need at their sending high school.” It should be understood that although some high school electives have course names similar to CTE offerings, academic high schools do not have the legal mandate to offer Career and Technical Education. There are good reasons for this and significant differences between high school electives and approved CTE programs.
A CTE program must be taught by a certified CTE instructor. The instructor must be a qualified professional in their field as well as a certified Maine teacher. For example: If the teacher is certified to teach welding, the instructor must be a professionally certified welder. If it is a CNA program, the teacher must be a Registered Nurse.
Many of the electives in the sending schools could be viewed as consumer or hobby type courses. An example of this is Consumer Car Care. It is a good idea for young people to learn the basics about automobile care and ownership. Such a class, however, is not meant to train auto mechanics. A Career and Technical auto mechanics program is required to have 350 hours of instruction each school year, and students who want to get certification should plan to spend two years in an Automotive Technology Program.
There is also the importance of having the right equipment to teach these programs. When a CTE program is evaluated by industry professionals (as they are legally required to do) one of the many aspects reviewed is the equipment available for student training. Each program is required to have up-to-date tools to ensure students are taught on equipment that is current in the industry. Most high schools cannot outfit a machine shop, a commercial kitchen, an automotive shop, a welding and fabrication facility, etc. It should also be understood that CTE programs are a lot different than industrial arts or home economics, which are generalized and introductory courses, not in-depth programs taught to rigorous industry standards.
Another reason for Career and Technical Education programming to be only offered in CTE schools is related to safety and oversight. Camden Hills Regional High School is currently evaluating whether they will continue to use New England Association of Schools and Colleges to audit their school. There is a reason why schools should be evaluated by an outside organization whether it is NEASC or another auditor. This allows a committee from outside the school to ensure that all aspects of an educational program are adhered to. In the case of a Career and Technical school there are multiple oversight processes that ensure the school is meeting the rigorous requirements for CTE education.
One type of school review for Maine’s CTE schools is called the Comprehensive School Review. A team of 10 to 15 educators from the state education department and other CTE schools with like programs review everything from the curriculum to Americans with Disabilities and Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance. Individual programs are also reviewed by a team from the industry area that they serve.
Many CTE programs are also evaluated by the community college system and students in approved programs can be dual enrolled in college and high school at the same time. This allows CTE students to get college credit if the high school CTE program is verified to be aligned with a like offering in the community college — giving them a head start on earning an associate’s degree.
CTE schools provide the opportunity to attain a variety of industry recognized certifications. For example: a CNA credential can only be bestowed on a student who has met all of the standards required by the State Board of Nursing.
A set of required standards to be met through classroom instruction, practical demonstration and end-of-course assessment by a neutral party are essential elements of Maine’s approved CTE programs, whether it is a Welding Program, Machine Tool or Culinary Arts.
These oversights ensuring alignment with industry standards are not required for electives offered in high schools.
So what do these programs cost? Every year at budget time Region 8 becomes a target. So it may surprise many to understand that less than ten cents of every dollar spent locally on secondary education (grades 9-12) is used for Career and Technical Education. Students in Region 8 can access Automotive Technology, Auto Body, Baking, Carpentry, CNA, Culinary, Design Tech (graphic arts), EMT, Firefighting, Horticulture, Marine Trades (boat building and maintenance), Machine Tool, Medical Science, Pre-engineering, Small Engine Repair, and Welding. This seems like a pretty good investment in our young people to me.
In conclusion, the Career and Technical schools are an important component of Maine’s education system. They should and must provide programming aligned to industry related standards. These programs are a separate part of the education system and cannot be replaced by offering electives or starting a charter school. Funding must be provided to adequately support these schools to fulfill their mission. A CTE director is responsible for ensuring the quality of the programming, hiring CTE certified instructors and working with the school board to ensure funding is provided.